Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

May 9, 2013

Phil Power: Some tips for graduates

It’s graduation season and last Friday, I had the honor of giving a commencement address to those earning economics degrees at the University of Michigan.

There’s an old joke that plagiarism is when you steal from one author; research is when you use many sources. Here, in the interest of research — and fresh for those who need material for their own speeches, are, free of charge, excerpts from mine:

n Whether you’re going from commencement straight to a job or off to get another degree, you are entering a world that is very complicated, moving very fast, and one over which you don’t have much control. Good jobs are tough to find, especially when you’re trying to figure out how to repay your student debt.

And at the same time, if you are anything like what I was when I graduated way back in 1960, you’re hoping that you might just wind up doing something significant, something beyond merely supporting a family on your paycheck. These feelings are strong, elusive and important. Don’t ignore them. They may turn out to be the most important things in your entire life.

n We all struggle for success, that’s true. But many of us, whether when we’re young and or as we come to the ends of our lives, are also searching for significance. The distinction is important because it seems to imply you have to choose between having a good, well-paid career and harboring aspirations to do something truly significant and out of the ordinary with your life.

I’m here to tell you that these two options — secure careers and aspirations — are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, I’d argue that in important ways one reinforces the other.

n I’m going to tell you a story that might help hone your legitimate interest in career success into sharper aspirations for significance. When I was an undergraduate at the University way back in the late 1950s, I joined a group called Americans Committed to World Responsibility. The group was led by two sociology graduate students, Judy and Al Guskin. There were 10 or 15 of us. We stayed up talking too late at night. We drank too much coffee … and far too much beer …

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